Micah Castillo and TingYi Lu: Innovative E-Choir for those with Aphasia

TingYi (Tina) Lu and Micah (me-kah) Castillo are both rising seniors studying Music Therapy. Tina is pursuing a specialized studies certificate in Piano Pedagogy, and Micah is pursuing specialized certificates in Interdepartmental Developmental Disabilities and Music Entrepreneurial Studies. As peers and natives of the Central Florida area, we have become close since our first year here at FSU- we’ve travelled to conferences, served on Alpha Mu Alpha (FSU’s Student Music Therapy Organization), carpooled to practicum sites, and have even performed at open mic gigs and sessions together. We will be piloting a 6-week online choir experience for individuals with aphasia. Aphasia is a prevalent post-stroke language disorder that impacts one’s ability to communicate in speaking, reading, and writing. We plan to interview participants to better understand their experience in this aphasia e-choir and use this information to create a leadership protocol manual for future students in music therapy and speech therapy to continue organizing and leading the choir.

Tingyi (Tina) Lu

Tina: As an undergraduate music therapy major, I became interested in aphasia during my participation in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) under the mentorship of Dr. Rachel Goff-Albritton, a certified Speech-Language Pathologist. I had the chance to conduct a systematic literature review on how music-based activities may address psychological issues that individuals with aphasia may face such as post-stroke depression and anxiety. This motivated me to consider how I could further my research by providing accessible music-based activities for the community. Research indicated that people with aphasia benefit from intentional musical engagement and social support found in community aphasia choirs. There is currently no active aphasia choir in the state of Florida–with many organizations stifled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This highlights the need for aphasia e-choirs as modeled by successful implementation of virtual aphasia choirs around the world. Additionally, undergraduate music therapy students will benefit from early pre-professional experiences of interacting with people with communication disorders like aphasia to prepare for intense clinical internships upon graduation.

Micah Castillo

Micah: Growing up in small-town Leesburg, I became interested in volunteering at my church and local geriatric facilities with my youth group, orchestra, and choir. When I found out about Music Therapy right before by senior year of high school, I immediately felt at peace knowing that I could pursue my passions of music and service in an undergraduate program. Through my leadership roles as Past-President of FSU’s student music therapy organization, Alpha Mu Alpha (AMA), and my current position as President of the Southeastern Region American Music Therapy Organization (SER-AMTAS), I have been able to offer opportunities for professional development and community outreach for our students during this pandemic, including virtual sing-along sessions with Tallahassee’s Arts in Medicine Services (AIMS) Program. Last December, Tina and I had the opportunity to plan and lead a music session for Voices of Hope for Aphasia (VOH) for our final project in our Recreational Techniques class. This session reassured us that we wanted to continue directly working with individuals with aphasia, and also allowed us to experience firsthand what positive effects music brings to them.

During the choir, we will be supervised by professionals such as board-certified Music Therapists (MT-BC) and Speech-Language Pathologists. Each choir session will begin and close with time for socialization to foster a safe and fun environment for individuals with aphasia to connect with one another. We will guide participants through a series of physical and vocal warm-ups to relax physical and vocal tensions. The core content of the choir will consist of familiar and preferred songs by the clients. We will emphasize the importance of presenting information in aphasia-friendly manners such as sharing lyrics on PowerPoints.

In preparation for this project, we are currently working on completing our IRB application. This includes completing CITI training, writing up a protocol and consent form, submitting interview questions for the participants, and more review of literature, just to name a few tasks! Through this process, we are learning how to create our own Qualtrics forms and make them aphasia-friendly with the use of rating scales, short and concise questions, and finding pictures to go along with the interview questions.

This past spring semester, we both had the opportunity to be a part of the Tallahassee Community Chorus. This experience allowed us to become aware of some of the challenges that may accompany a virtual choir, such as audio/video delays, following along with the music while everyone is on mute, maintaining good singer’s posture throughout the virtual rehearsal, etc., but we believe there are benefits to this online experience as well, such as the fact that we are able to work with individuals in St. Petersburg while remaining in Tallahassee. We are both looking forward to learning more about telehealth music therapy, as well as individuals with aphasia through this project, and hopefully providing this opportunity to students in the future.

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